Effect of Unsteady Surface Water Hydraulics on Mixing-Dependent Hyporheic Denitrification in Riverbed Dunes

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Virginia Tech

Increased reactive nitrogen from human activities negatively affects surface water (SW) quality. The hyporheic zone, where SW and groundwater interact, possesses unique biogeochemical conditions that can attenuate contaminants (e.g., denitrification), including mixing-dependent reactions that require components from both water sources. Previous research has explored mixing-dependent denitrification in the hyporheic zone but did not address the effects of varying SW depth as would occur from storms, tides, dam operation, and varying seasons. We simulated steady and unsteady hyporheic flow and transport through a riverbed dune using MODFLOW and SEAM3D, and varied SW depth, degree of sediment heterogeneity, amplitude and frequency of sinusoidal fluctuations, among others to determine these effects. We found that increasing steady state surface water depth from 0.1 to 1.0 m increased non-mixing dependent aerobic respiration by 270% and mixing-dependent denitrification by 78% in homogeneous sediment. Heterogeneous hydraulic conductivity fields yielded similar results, with increases in consumption due to variation in correlation length and variance of less than 5%. Daily SW fluctuation, including variation of amplitude, period, and sinusoidal versus instantaneous changes had significantly less impact than longer-term trends in SW depth. There is potential for the hyporheic zone to attenuate NO3- in upwelling groundwater plumes. Restoration efforts may be able to maximize the potential for mixing-dependent reactions in the hyporheic zone by increasing residence times.

hyporheic, surface water-groundwater exchange, transient, pollutant attenuation, nitrate, denitrification, streams, rivers, contaminants, sediments